It’s The Democracy, Stupid

Pat McCarthy, who was imprisoned without trial by the British in the early 1970s for alleged membership of the (Official) Irish Republican Army and who later became an SDLP mayor of Belfast from 2006-7, has defended his decision to accept an award from the United Kingdom’s head of state making him a “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (MBE). The Belfast Telegraph reports that:

“Defending his decision Mr McCarthy who was interned in 1971 said it “doesn’t make me any less Irish”.

He told the BBC Stephen Nolan Show: “It came completely out of the blue and when I made inquiries as to who had nominated me I felt very humbled and I thought it was a worthwhile accepting it.

“We are living in 2016 it’s not 1916 we have moved on from them.””

Yes, Ireland may have moved on from the “them” of 1916 (or 1969) but it seems that Pat McCarthy and the UK has not. For how else would one describe an anachronistic system like imperial orders (for an empire that no longer exists outside of the island of Britain and the occupied north-east of this island), or a ruling class based upon conditions of royal blood and noble lines, of earls and dames, knights and baronesses? McCarthy criticises others for living in the past while he embraces it, and the faux-aristocratic pretensions that go with it. Forget about questions of Irishness or nationality, what about questions of social democracy, civil republicanism and political modernism?

Not so much 1916 as 1716.

Meanwhile, have a read of Daniel Collins’ excellent analysis of the latest controversy over the two soccer teams which represent this island nation at the level of international football. Both may be be invited to Belfast City Hall for a civic reception. Some leaders of political unionism are deeply unhappy, as you might expect, though I particularly enjoyed the rant by wee Jamie Bryson about the “…national team of Northern Ireland“. Since when did the British-administered north-east of Ireland become a separate nation or nation-state? It is and always has been part of the Irish nation, the island of Ireland and its islands. All else is just smoke and mirrors.

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17 comments

  1. Shame on him. Now an establishment toady. I bet the English nobility still regard him as lesser than themselves.

  2. I tend to vacillate between “abolish the British monarchy!” and “Prince Charles seems like a good guy, maybe Britain needs him on the throne.” Maybe Charles should be the last monarch. He’s pretty old already, even as Crown Prince!

    1. He says he was nominated by friends and community leaders and therefore he could not refuse the offer without insulting them. Which sounds a bit lame, as excuses go. I certainly haven’t seen too many people buy into that one. Most youthful radicals become middle-aged conservatives, or at least so the stereotype goes. Though I actually seem to be getting more radical with age! 😀

    1. Great article. Shows how pointless all this reconciliation with mainstream political unionism is. Just look at the DUP’s “British Isles” resolution. They maxed the insult and provocation factor to warp factor one million knowing full well no nationalist/republican could ever vote for it. At best, the only political unionist parties that can be amenable to compromise are of the Alliance type. DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP, etc. are lost causes.

      1. Thank you.

        I got the exact same sense when reading the language of the DUP’s conditional amendment proposal. Petty, inflammatory and transparently clear to anyone who has a bit of wit what the motive was; to derail the motion and “subtly” assert their opposition to the presence of the FAI team without actually having to explicitly state it and come across as blatant bigots.

        I always like to have faith and believe in persuasion or redemption, so to speak. I like to believe that unionists could be voluntarily brought under the umbrella of Irish unity, for example. It would be very republican (in the most traditional and civic sense of the word), inclusive and socially democratic to have everyone on board and in tandem, rather than relying on majoritarianism to drag unionists along against their will and holding out for a nationalist majority in the north to realise that – I don’t find that as inspiring ideologically, nor does it encourage much thorough self-reflection – but the intransigence of many unionists and loyalists to mere compromise and notions of parity can make reaching out without completely losing one’s integrity a difficult task and a thankless sensation. (On that note, recall the anthem stunt at the recent remembrance ceremony, for example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-34787029) It’s the source of great internal struggle!

        Maybe waiting it out is the only realistic strategic option. Unionists did agree away their veto and voted for the terms that would define any post-GFA referendum, after all, so it would be bad faith on their part to renege on that (not that such moral concerns or the fear of causing ill will would necessarily impede such a breach of trust, mind).

        Of course, the other option is local nationalist councils outlining their plans to secede forthwith…

        1. To answer one of your last points, if a majority in the north-east votes for reunification in a post-2020 referendum I can practically guarantee that political unionism of all shades will reject the outcome. It will be 1922 in 2022. I would then give 50/50 on the British government accepting or rejecting the vote, regardless of party. If fact I would guess that repartition will be suggested, with nationalist areas and enclaves going “south”. I also suspect that the Irish establishment would go along with that as the least worse option. I think I might write something up along those lines in the next week or so. You’ve given me a few ideas!

          1. People in the Republic of Ireland would have to vote for reunification too. What if they reject it too? only 30% or so support it if that means tax increases (and there definitely will be higher taxes – the Germans are still paying their solidarity tax).

  3. I can’t think of a previous instance of an Irish person accepting British honours that I thought was a good idea. But having listened to McCarthy on the Nolan show he would have had to have been a giant prick to the people that nominated him (church & community groups across south Belfast) to refuse it. I’m not sure that in this particular instance I would hold onto my republican principles so tightly that I’d be willing to do that to the people I’d worked with for the last 14 years.

    That he himself was interned makes me extremely loathe to criticise him in this regard. To throw in his face the suffering of all those at the hands of the British Empire, as he himself is one of them.

    Not that any of it will matter once we disestablish the entire monarchy and ban all such titles. Right?

    1. I’ve heard the reasons he put forward for accepting but… Meh. Not sure I’m convinced by them. In any case, put aside the whole Irish, republican, 800 years thing. He’s a social-democrat and labour politician. How is an aristocracy and honours system compatible with that?

      1. Fair enough, this is the first time I’ve ever given an Irish person the benefit of the doubt on British honours, for precisely those reasons. Although, it may be all my poutrage is being expended in the Sanders/Clinton pie fights.

  4. Watching the B.B.C. N.I. news this morning I was astonished to learn that the Northern Ireland football team has already been given a civic reception by Belfast city Council. Now, apparently, they are to be brought back, along with the Republic’s soccer team and given another reception. I presume the latter team has already been given a reception in Dublin. I don’t live in Belfast, but if I did I would be very upset that councillors have nothing better to do than discuss this trivia and no better use for ratepayers’ money. But, of course, this has really nothing to do with paying tribute to footballers, it’s about infantile councillors scoring petty points off each other.

    1. The Ireland team haven’t been given a reception in Dublin yet, as far as I’m aware, but the Dublin City Council did vote to approve of a motion to invite both teams to a reception in Dublin, so I assume that will go ahead.

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